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Music of Afghanistan; Interview U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko; Interview with Afghan National Institute of Music Founder Ahmad Naser Sarmast; Interview with Brown University Professor of Economics Emily Oster. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 19, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in Kabul, Afghanistan, where every new
dawn seems to bring with it a new Taliban edict against women.
TOLOnews, Afghanistan's leading independent news channel, has been told by the Ministry of Virtue that its female presenters must cover their faces
when anchoring. The station lost the vast majority of its staff when the Taliban took over and journalists fled. TOLOnews has a long history of
success and sacrifice.
This display case shows two of their reporters and damaged gear when they were killed in a bomb attack back in 2018. But, despite everything, it's
managed to stay on the air. And female staff play a leading role, though now their future here might be in jeopardy, as we found out today when we
visited their newsroom.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): For the past five months, Khatera Ahmadi has been anchoring the morning news on TOLO TV, that this might be the last time she
can show her face on air.
The morning editorial meeting starts with worried discussion about mandatory masking. Station director Khpolwak Sapai says he'd even
considered just shutting down and leaving. But then he thought, female staff who want to carry on anchoring with a mask can, while those who don't
will get other jobs behind the scenes.
KHPOLWAK SAPAI, DIRECTOR, TOLONEWS: We will leave the mask decision to them. They will make their own decision.
AMANPOUR: And it's a tough decision for these women, who braved the new Taliban regime to stay on the air, who've already adjusted their head
scarves to hide their hair, and who now fear is steep slide back to the Middle Ages.
Khatera says she's so stressed, she couldn't even president her program properly.
KHATERA AHMADI, TOLONEWS ANCHOR (through translator): It's not clear. Even if we appear with the burqa, maybe they will say that women's voices are
forbidden. They want women to be removed from the screen. They are afraid of an educated woman.
AMANPOUR: Across town, the Taliban government spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, was attending a meeting with local journalists to mark a slightly
delayed World Press Freedom Day.
We stopped him on the way in.
(on camera): You have said they have to wear a face mask if they're on television, women. Why?
(voice-over): "It's advisory from the ministry, he says."
(on camera): But what does that mean? Is it compulsory?
(voice-over): "If it is said, they should wear it. It will be implemented as it is in our religion too," says Mujahed. "It is good if it's
(on camera): Afghan women are afraid that this is the beginning of your efforts to erase them from the workspace. They're afraid that, if they wear
the mask, the next thing you will say is their voice cannot be heard publicly. What is your response to that?
(voice-over): "Like during COVID," he says, "masks were mandatory. Women would only be wearing hijab or masks and they will continue their work."
He seems to say that, if women wear this, they can go to work. But the dress code edicts, like saying female university students must now wear
black, not colored head scarves, is an escalating war of nerves, and everyone fears where this will lead.
Back at TOLOnews, these female anchors are distraught.
"What should we do?" cries Tahmina. "We don't know. We were ready to fight to the last to perform our work, but they don't allow us."
"We women have been taken hostage," says Hilah (ph).
"Women can't get themselves educated or work, like me, who's worked on screen for years and couldn't leave Afghanistan. Due to the fear of the
Taliban. I can't go on screen again."
Since the Taliban takeover, the station has employed even more women than before, because they need a safe space. And as for the actual journalism,
TOLOnews is Afghanistan's leading independent news channel. But Director Sapai says they will all quit the day the Taliban pressures them to tailor
their coverage or lie to a public that's come to trust the truth they have been delivering over 20 years.
He's saved the station so far, recruiting a whole new staff, after most employees fled the Taliban's arrival.
SAPAI: And from management level, I felt alone. And I was considered. I was only thinking that how to keep the screen alive, not to go dark.
AMANPOUR: The challenge now is keeping it from going dark.
AMANPOUR: The fallout from the collapse and the Taliban takeover.
And now we take a deeper look into the new American report doling out the blame for that swift takeover and pinning a good deal of it on the United
The scathing analysis by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction basically says -- quote -- "The single most important factor
in the collapse in August 2021 was the U.S. decision to withdraw U.S. military forces and contractors from Afghanistan."
So, joining me now is the man who's been heading up SIGAR, as it's known, for a decade, John Sopko.
And, John Sopko, welcome back to our program.
It's quite a bombshell that you have dropped. I mean, I know it does follow some of your previous ones. And you have been building on this analysis.
Let me just first get to what we have just reported on, the undue burden that's now being placed on the women here, who are terribly afraid that,
despite assurances from the West and from the Taliban, their rights will not be respected.
Do you feel that this was inevitable?
JOHN SOPKO, SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION: We were hopeful that the Taliban had changed their ways.
But I think their actions now speak far stronger than the words they were making about accepting some of the international standards on human rights.
So, it's unfortunate, but I think it is looking like our worst fears are coming true.
AMANPOUR: So, just quickly on this, in April, you quoted a report by a news organization and confederation, both here and an international one,
basically detailing that about half all of Afghanistan's news organizations have closed, and so have about half the news reporters and those who work
in the business.
What will that mean, do you think, when you see what the trend might be starting from right now? What do you think that will mean in terms of this
country going forward?
SOPKO: It's ominous. I mean, that's all I can say.
We have seen time and time again the Taliban cutting back on some of those Western values that, over the last 20 years, Afghanistan has accepted. I
mean, one of the greatest success stories of our 20 years in Afghanistan was the -- we helped create a free and independent press.
And now, as you -- we noted and you have noted, over half of those media outlets have disappeared. And more than half the staff are out of work. So
it does not bode well, I will be honest with you, just like in many other areas. I have been following your reporting this week in Afghanistan. So
what's happened to women in school, what's happened to education, what's happened to health care, it does not bode well.
That's all I can say.
AMANPOUR: So let's go back to the beginning, sort of, and what happened starting in 2020 with the Trump administration's trying to make a deal with
the Taliban, and then the Biden administration doing so and implementing it and pulling out.
You basically lay the blame at that -- blame at their feet for what's happened. You call it the single most important factor in the ANDSF's
collapse. That's the Afghan National Defense Forces. Talk us through what you mean, because, look, John, when the Taliban took over, the president of
the United States, NATO, all those people were saying it's the fault of the Afghan forces, they just collapsed, they just ran away.
Tell us what really happened.
SOPKO: Well, thank you for inviting me.
And our report, I think, is the first U.S. government, independent analysis of what happened in Afghanistan over the 18 months leading to the collapse
of the military. And what we found -- and we're not laying blame. We're just stating facts.
The facts are that the peace negotiation and the deal that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban, as well as the decision of the
Biden administration to follow through on the removal of the troops and the contractors, destroyed the morale of the Afghan military and their police.
That was the singular issue.
Now, there's a lot of blame to go around. We point blame at President Ghani also. We point blame at the fact that he didn't accept the reality of the
situation going on. He actually thought that we weren't going to pull the trigger, neither Trump nor Biden was going to pull the trigger, even though
we told him we were.
And that led to it. He wasn't prepared for the Taliban offensive. And we highlight that in the report.
AMANPOUR: So, John Sopko, explain -- expand a little on that, because he wasn't prepared for the exit. He thought you weren't going to pull the
trigger, as you just said, but there were also other issues, right?
He actually didn't realize or nobody here realized how dependent the Afghan forces were for logistics and other such things on the U.S. and the NATO --
and the NATO assistance forces here.
SOPKO: Yes, that's one of the critical findings we have.
And we report that it wasn't until about a few weeks before the collapse he finally realized and his leadership, the people around him realized that
Afghanistan military and police had no logistical capability, that the U.S. government had been providing that and our allies.
So, although we gave them a lot of weapons, and we gave them a lot of equipment, if you can't get it out to the field, if you can't get it out to
where the soldiers and the police were fighting, they're going to die.
And he didn't realize that. And one of the problems we highlight is, he surrounded himself with a cabal of loyalists who basically knew nothing
about national security. And he ignored the national security experts. He actually refused to meet with his own national security council, the
national security group, in the Afghan government that wanted to brief him on this, because he thought it was all fake news.
He also replaced all of the Western-trained officers and Western-trained generals for all the various corps with people who were more loyal to him,
because he was paranoid that these Western-trained officers were going to - - behind some type of coup. So then he surrounded himself with loyalists who were incompetent.
So there is a lot of blame to go around. You can't just blame the United States for this. But he was -- and it was almost like he was in never-never
land over those last few months, making statements about new contracts with a Lebanese contractor or things going on, while he should have been
focusing on the fact that the Taliban were taking over provinces.
AMANPOUR: And so, John Sopko, since I have been here these last days, I have talked to Afghans, and including some who are very close to the
And they have also suggested that that's one of the reasons, well, particularly the fact that Ghani fled, that led to that quick collapse. Do
you think that, at that point, Ghani had any option but to flee? I mean, they say he should have stayed, we should have had an orderly transition.
I mean, is that also never-never land?
SOPKO: You know, that's a tough question. And it's a very good question you ask.
We discuss that, if he had come up with a strategy, which our military and our embassy was telling him to come up -- what is your strategy? How are
you going to handle this? He never did. I think he announced it a few weeks are a few days before the end, a six-month strategy, when he really needed
a 24- to 48-hour strategy.
But there were a number of well-trained Afghan military units that could have come and defended Kabul. Now, I can't tell you for sure and we don't
know whether that would have worked, but at least it would have stayed off the end.
And I believe, maybe from some of the Taliban you have talked to, that they were surprised that they came into Kabul so easily and so quickly. And so,
if he had stayed, I'm not saying he would be like the Ukrainian president, who's stayed the fight the Russians and has gotten the whole country behind
him, but at least he would have kept Kabul free for a while.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you about that.
AMANPOUR: Because it goes also to motivation and, again, motivation of the Afghan forces.
One of the things you write in your analysis is that this sort of drumbeat of withdrawal all that started in 2020 had a cascading effect...
AMANPOUR: ... also on the morale of the Afghan forces.
AMANPOUR: Can you flesh that out a little bit for us?
And that's also another good point, is that the Afghan soldiers who were out there fighting -- and let's not forget a lot of Afghan soldiers and
airmen died to defend their country. They put up a fight. But, because there was no strategy, because the Ghani administration didn't appreciate
this situation, these people were left out on these isolated bases all through the country.
There was over 1,000 or more checkpoints and little bases. And what the Taliban did, especially after the peace negotiation was finished, they knew
what was in the peace negotiation more than the Afghan government knew, and definitely what the average Afghan soldier did.
So, as much as I hate to give credit to the Taliban, they used a sophisticated psychological operation to turn these troops into realizing
that it was useless for them to fight. They were saying to the community elders, to the local militia groups, to the local soldiers and police that,
hey, we have cut a deal with the United States. We're going to get this country no matter what. So why fight and die?
And after the Afghan military out, out in these bases, realized that the U.S. was no longer protecting them -- and that was always the thing that
kept them going. Uncle Sam and our Air Force, in particular, and our military was always there to protect them. They realized that it was all
So why fight? Why die? Take money from the Taliban, take a bus ticket and go home. And that's what you started to see. And it was cascading,
cascading, cascading across the country. We saw that. We knew this was going to happen. The U.S. military predicted it was going to happen,
particularly once the contractors, the U.S. and foreign contractors left.
There was nobody to do that logistics, nobody to do the repairing of the Afghan air force, because we weren't going to provide food. And we weren't
going to provide munitions. We were weren't going to provide casualty assistance. It was up to the Afghan military.
But once we pulled out the contractors, the Afghan air force stopped functioning, essentially.
AMANPOUR: Honestly, it beggars belief. It really does. I mean, that's a 20 year effort with I don't know how many billions or trillions of dollars,
and all for that, I mean, all for that. It's like a mirage that they created.
But I want to ask you this, because you have obviously seen the CENTCOM report that was just made public recently talking about the potential,
which, of course, the U.S. and NATO and everybody said, oh, at least the one thing we're absolutely sure of, that this country will never be used as
a base for attacking either the United States or its allies.
But now CENTCOM seems to say that maybe that's not the case and that the terrible poverty here is fertile ground for recruiting people who might
want to take up arms and fight. And, look, this is one of -- what the lead inspector general said.
"U.S. CENTCOM assess that the Taliban will likely loosen restrictions" -- those are restrictions over counterterrorism -- "over the next 12 to 24
months, allowing al Qaeda greater freedom of movement and the ability to train, travel and potentially reestablish an external operations
Just react to that for me.
SOPKO: Well, we -- my agency has not looked at the intelligence issue. So -- but I have no reason to doubt what CENTCOM has announced.
So, I mean, they are the experts on it. But I must be very honest with you. The -- our ability to understand what's going on in Afghanistan has been
limited by our leaving the country. So I would have to defer to CENTCOM's analysis on that.
AMANPOUR: Now, of course, the U.S. administration says it was still the right policy, that we were going to leave, and that's that.
But I just want to ask you, because one of the final sort of conclusions, I guess, in your report is about the idea of what happened to you. What was
it? Was it counterterrorism? Was it nation-building? And you look at four different nation-building efforts by the United States since World War II
Just describe them and the difference and what that might mean for the future.
SOPKO: Well, it's a point we highlight, that we have been involved then something like Afghanistan in four different areas since World War II, as
you identify, in Korea, in Afghanistan, in Iraq.
And the only one where we have been really successful was in Korea. And part of that is because we committed ourselves there, and we stayed there.
When you are doing this type of development, whether it's to develop a government or develop a military, it takes a long period of time. And you
need one government involved with one plan and the staff to do it.
We didn't have 20 years in Afghanistan, or not a 20-year strategy. We basically had 10 two-year strategies. And each strategy was, get in and get
out as soon as you can. And, as a result, we were divided in our approach to immediate concerns over security vs. longer-term development of the
Afghan military or the Afghan government.
So that's basically why we talk about those four examples, the same problem we had in Iraq, same problem in Vietnam, where we didn't really have that
long-term strategy and long-term commitment.
AMANPOUR: So, what would that look like? Because a long-term strategy, people might say, well, that is long term, and we did have a commitment.
What should it have looked like now? I mean, one of the things that you point out, and others have pointed out, is that the United States did try
to create a military in its own image, something that wasn't necessarily adaptable, or relevant or useful for actually what the military in this
country would need to be tasked for.
SOPKO: Well, if you're going to create in your image and likeness -- and that's what we did in Korea -- you're going to have to stay for the long
term, because you can't do it in two-year segments.
And, I mean, for example, a good example is -- and we're -- we have reported on this -- that the -- let's take a look at helicopters. The
Afghans were actually capable. They had a 90 percent capability of maintaining the old Soviet era helicopters and airplanes.
The U.S., it -- they were doing less than 30 or 40 percent maintenance. That's why, when we pulled out the contractors, within a matter of weeks,
60 to 70 percent of the Black Hawk helicopters we gave them no longer could function.
So, what I'm saying is, it takes -- you either have to accept the limitations they have and the older equipment, or, if you're going to bring
in new, sophisticated Western equipment, you got to give them time to learn how to do it.
And, remember, we were dealing with a military, the Afghan military, which was basically illiterate. I'm not saying they couldn't read English. They
couldn't read Afghan. And you're trying to turn these into pilots, a very sophisticated equipment, mechanics, people who knew logistics. And that's
going to take a long period of time.
When we left, the U.S. Air Force was saying the Afghan air force would never be ready to function their own until 2030. But we still left.
SOPKO: So no one should have been surprised that the Afghan air force collapsed.
The U.S. Air Force told us, I think, in January that -- saying, we needed until 2030. And that apply to other things too in the Afghan military. We
gave them Western capabilities, but not the most important capability. And that was how to maintain, how to sustain and how to do actually getting the
equipment out and the needed material out to their soldiers and police.
AMANPOUR: And just very finally and very quickly, you say that this is not a blame game, but this is analysis.
And I just want to understand from you. If there is nobody or nothing held accountable from this, isn't it likely to be repeated?
SOPKO: Well, it wasn't our job in this report to point fingers.
Our job is to give the facts. Let's learn some lessons. Let's try to do a better job. And, also, keep in mind, we are going to do something like this
again. And if we do, let's learn some lessons. I'm not here in this report to actually point fingers.
But, yes, there should be accountability. I think there are people who should be held accountable. But that wasn't my job or our job in this
report or the other reports we're doing for Congress.
AMANPOUR: All right, John Sopko, thank you so much for joining us.
SOPKO: Thank you. Always a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Now, the last time the Taliban took control -- thank you, John.
The last time they took control in the '90s, music was swiftly banned. After 9/11, when they were then driven from power the first time, the
Afghanistan National Institute of Music, led by Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, revived this cultural heritage, creating a space for vulnerable Afghan girls and
boys to learn music and bringing together the acclaimed all-female Zohra orchestra.
Now many of those students who have fled this country, but they are still making music from their new base in Portugal, traditional Afghan music far
And Dr. Sarmast joins me from New York, where he's actually receiving an honorary doctorate from Juilliard.
So, congratulations on that, and welcome to the program.
Take us back to the beginning, Dr. Sarmast, when you decided to create this institution, this musical institution. What made you want to do this? How
did you get it all together?
AHMAD NASER SARMAST, FOUNDER, AFGHAN NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MUSIC: If you remember back any times, in 1996, when the Taliban were in power, that was
the time that music was entirely banned in Afghanistan.
And the people of Afghanistan were entirely deprived from their musical rights. People of Afghanistan were not allowed to listen -- listen to
music, play music, learn music. Musicians were not allowed to make a living. And many musicians of Afghanistan in that time, they were forced to
beg on the streets of Kabul.
And when the regime of Taliban collapsed in 2001, that was a time and an opportunity to bring back the music into the life of Afghan people. But, of
course, when I have been planning to bring music back into the life of the Afghan people, it was not just to bring music, but also to make sure that
music is -- is a power for transformation. It's a force for changes.
It's about -- it's a force for changing the community. And it's a force, making a tangible contribution to the establishment of a just and civil
society in Afghanistan.
And that's why when the idea of the establishment of Afghanistan National Institute of Music has been discussed with the Afghan government, in the
forefront of it -- well, it laid, that idea, how to use music for the betterment of the Afghan community, how music can contribute to the
betterment of Afghan society, how music can contribute to gender equality in Afghanistan, how music can build bridges between different ethnic group
of Afghanistan, and how music can built bridges between Afghanistan and the international community.
AMANPOUR: And, of course, you mentioned gender equality. And you did set up your school here, and it was open to boys and girls.
How easily did they take to that? Was it difficult to just start knitting that sort of togetherness along? Because it'd been very difficult before
SARMAST: Back in 2010, when the Afghanistan National Institute of Music was established, we had only one girl to that.
But thanks to the commitment of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music to gender equality and the commitment to reserve 50 percent of the new
enrollee places for the aisle for the girls of Afghanistan, we managed to increase the number of the girls to a level that, by 2021, when the Taliban
come into power, two-thirds -- one-third of the student body were girls.
And when the -- by that time, we even managed to establish that the well- known all-women orchestra of Afghanistan, Zohra, which has been in high demand nationally and internationally and an ensemble or an orchestra that
served as a symbol of positive changes of the last 20 years in Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: And, Dr. Sarmast, we said that you're now based in Portugal. Definitely, the Zohra orchestra is.
How are they taking to that? How are they dealing with exile? How are they able to sort of recapture their culture and their desire to make music?
SARMAST: We are very privileged, and we are -- we have been very lucky to evacuate 273 young musicians through our faculty, our staff and general
education faculty as well.
Of course, the kids, when they were evacuated from Afghanistan, they were extremely happy, because, once again, they got an opportunity to chase
And once again, they were able to dream to become a well-known musician and a musician capable to preserve their musical tradition, but, at the same
time, to present Afghan music and to share the beauty of Afghan music with the rest of the International Community. As -- all refugees, the life of
our students at the beginning was overwhelmed. But slowly, they're getting used to it. Getting back on musical instruments on their hands, it was
already something special for our community and for our students.
And now, students are extremely happy that they are out of Afghanistan, but of course, they are worried for their siblings back in Afghanistan. They
are worried for their fellow Afghan musicians. While at the same time, they are trying their best to become the voice of Afghan music and musician in
exile. All (INAUDIBLE) and orchestras has been reestablished. And we are receiving huge number of public performances from music festivals, from
institutions, from music institutions, and from international festivals.
So, up until now, our students and some have played over the many, many performances and public performances in Lisbon and around Lisbon. But very
soon, they're also beginning, once again, their international tours. And we would be very happy that during all of this tour to save, as the voice of
Afghan people and to raise awareness about the state of music and musician in Afghanistan. And to let the International Community know that once
again, Afghanistan is a silent nation.
Once again, Afghanistan is a place where the Taliban forcibly denied the musical rights of Afghan people. And also to let the International
Community know that today the people of Afghanistan do not have the right to listen to music, to play music, to learn music. And once again, Afghan
musicians are in a very desire -- in a very critical situation that they are making the most low-paid jobs in order to survive and in order to bring
bread to their families.
AMANPOUR: And Dr. Sarmast, you know, I want to ask a little bit about your story because there were many bombings, it was quite insecure back then.
One of the things people say now is at least the killings and the warring has stopped but there are so many other problems that they have to contend
You, yourself, in about 2014, you were the victim of an attack, and you were injured. I just wondered how you are, how you managed to get over it,
and muster the courage to carry on?
SARMAST: Before the -- before we were discussing what's happened with me in 2014, but I would also like to note that in spite of the claim of the
Taliban that they brought peace and stability in Afghanistan, there's no peace and stability in Afghanistan. We're witnessing -- and you probably,
you know, in Afghanistan, and you're gathering information on what's happening in Panjshir Valley. You're gathering information on what's
happening in the -- in Andarab, in Baghlan, in Takhar.
But at the same time, what kind of peace we are talking about when half of the population of Afghanistan are deprived of their rights? Rights to
education. Rights to work. Rights to leave their homes. And rights to be part of the social and political life of the country? Really, we are
talking about that long sustainable peace in Afghanistan, of course not.
We cannot talk or speak about the long and sustainable peace when the human right is evilly violated in Afghanistan. When the people of Afghanistan do
not have the right to freely express themselves. When the entire nation is deprived from their musical rights. So, the -- speculating about the
Taliban brought peace in Afghanistan is like similar speculation like the Taliban has changed.
I clearly remember early days when there was a huge campaign that ran internationally to whitewash the Taliban. But the days that the Taliban
returned back into power and as the days are passing, we all can see that there's -- there wasn't any changes in their attitude and the mentality of
the Taliban and the ideology of the Taliban.
Again, the Taliban are forcibly imposing themself and their policies. And 2014, what's happened with Afghanistan nationally and stuff and music and
myself, that's an example. In that time also, they were attacking cultural institutions, musical activities and they do exactly the same. There has
been many shocking reports about the killing of people -- killing young people for listening to music. We are well aware of the killing of
Andarabi, a well-known singer in the Northeastern part of the country. We are well aware of the humiliating policies of the Taliban towards musicians
AMANPOUR: And yourself, how are you feeling after that injury and after that, sort of, insecurity them?
SARMAST: From the very first day after I began better understanding, I committed myself to fight the extremism and Taliban through music and
through music in Afghanistan. And I'm still at the same mood. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music and myself, we are standing free
for fighting for the musical rights of the Afghan people. But at the same time, fighting for preserving musical tradition of Afghanistan in exile.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Sarmast, finally, you know, let me ask you. You've laid out all your concerns and the very real concerns for people here. But let's
say, as a musician, do you see any way to engage? Because I asked you this because there's quite a lot of, you know, different opinions right now,
given the terrible humanitarian crisis. Half the people here are in a state of acute hunger, there are famine-like conditions stalking this land for
about nine million people. It's really, really terrible for the people. Do you have any ideas about how the world should engage with the Taliban? Do
you think that engagement could encourage them to be a little bit different to keep their promises that they made at Doha and when they first came
SARMAST: I feel very sorry for the people of Afghanistan. I'm well aware of the starvation of the Afghan people. I'm well aware of the humanitarian
country crisis and Afghanistan. But the time since the arrival of the Taliban back into power, the International Community was and is engaged
with the Taliban. Is that the experience of nine months proved positive? Does it prove that the Taliban are eager or Taliban are ready to change and
to accept some of the concessions the International Community and the people of Afghanistan asking from them?
On contrary, from -- as the days are passing, the Taliban are getting more restrict. And they're beginning to, once again, implement their draconian
policies against the Afghan people. While I --
AMANPOUR: All right. Dr. Sarmast --
SARMAST: -- I significantly consider the important support of the International Community for the Afghan people but I would like to call on
the International Community --
SARMAST: -- please, make sure that the funding are not getting to the Taliban.
AMANPOUR: Well, thank you so much for laying out your views. Dr. Sarmat, thanks you for joining us from New York.
Now, in the United States, baby formula is the latest casualty in the American supply chain issue. With President Biden announcing new measures
to increase production. Emily Oster is an economics professor and the best- selling author of parenting and pregnancy books. She joins Michel Martin to discuss what's at stake with the current formula shortage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Christiane. Professor Emily Oster, thanks so much for talking with us.
EMILY OSTER, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: It's really hard to describe for people who haven't been through this experience. Just how terrifying this is for parents, especially
mothers who are trying to figure -- I'll just say parents and caregivers in general, who are trying to figure out how to feed their babies. So, I just
want to start by asking, have we ever experienced something like this before, to your knowledge?
OSTER: Not to my knowledge. And I think that what you say about the stress of this puts on parents, it's really extreme. And if you think about it,
about 75 percent of babies in the U.S. are fed on formula at some point in their first year. And for those babies, there is no substitute. So, this
isn't a shortage of other kinds of foods where we would be able to substitute. For these babies, this is the only food they're consuming. And
the fear that comes from parents, that I hear from parents around, you know, is my baby going to die? Are they going to not have anything to eat?
I think that's just very extreme and unprecedented.
MARTIN: Again, it's hard to describe for people who have not been through this experience. Like, why some of the suggestions that people think
they're making helpfully are ridiculous. Like, some people say things like, oh, just breastfeed, or just this, or just that. You know, why do so many
instances in the United States use formula at some point? I mean, is this cultural? Is it because so many women have to go back to work because our
maternity leave policies are so stingy? What's your take on that?
OSTER: So, I think there's a lot of different reasons. If we look at the data on breastfeeding, about 90 percent of U.S. mothers actually start
breastfeeding in -- or attempt breastfeeding for some period. But we don't see the continuation at those levels, you know, even three or six months.
So, a lot of babies are using formula in conjunction with breastfeeding. So, some formula, some breastfeeding, some of that is because people are
working, some of that is because that's what works for their family.
And I think part of what's so challenging about these discussions is that actually, these are both great options for feeding your baby. And it should
not be the case that choosing to feed your baby with formula, for whatever reason, it should not be the case that that then mean that you can't feed
your baby at all. And so, in some sense, the idea, well why don't you just breastfeed? In addition to being completely impossible, it's not -- if you
have a five-month-old baby you cannot just start breastfeeding them. Then, in addition to that not being feasible, it also isn't really something that
we should be trying to regulate in that way.
MARTIN: Well, also -- but you also point out that there are -- if you adopt a baby, you can't just start breastfeeding if you are -- you say,
like, in a household where there are -- there's more than one parent. You may have some health condition. If you are a breast cancer survivor, for
example. If you have some health condition that makes it dangerous for you to breastfeed. Also, some babies have difficulty digesting breast milk, you
know, for whatever reason or they have some sort of allergies or it's just -- it's a fact that there are numerous conditions that people have. I think
this is a shock to some people to find out that a disruption -- this kind of any disruption causes such havoc. So, what is the -- what's sort of the
economics around infant formula? How many companies make it? Why is it that there are so few, do you know?
OSTER: Yes, so there's a few different things going on. So, one is that there's a small number of formula makers in the U.S., there's sort of four
big ones. And that has meant that the industry is very concentrated. The other thing is that there aren't that many locations where these are
produced. So, even independent of there being not very many companies, there aren't that very many plants. And that is because for good reason.
The FDA has very strong regulations about safety and cleanliness in those plants.
But by extension, the need for that regulation means that if something goes wrong, as happened at the starting plant and you cut down that supply, that
can have much larger impact on the market than it would in a market that was less concentrated either in terms of farm or plants. So, there's a sort
of a little bit of a -- of a kind of perfect storm of, sort of what happened in this particular case. But I think it has highlighted some
broader issues about the way that this operates which I think we will be revisiting down the line to make sure that this doesn't happen again.
MARTIN: We were talking sort of supply chain disruptions but I can't help but notice there's no infant formula shortage in Canada. And there's no
infant formula shortage in Mexico. Why is that?
OSTER: I think the supply chain has -- the supply chain shortage didn't -- have interacted but are certainly not the sufficient single cause for this
MARTIN: It's also the case that some people are more affected by this and others. I mean, you've already shared with us that the majority of infants
in the United States use formula at some point in their development. But some families are more affected by this than others. And that's families
who depend on the programs of -- for low-income families, right. And why is that?
OSTER: Yes, so there's actually two groups that were more heavily affected. So, one is families who rely on specialized formula, which are
made in even smaller number of plants that a lot of it was made in this one plant that was shut down. But there's also families on WIC. And WIC serves
about half of the infants in the U.S. and it purchases about 40 -- a bit over 40 percent of the formula. So, there's huge share of the formula sales
and the U.S.
And until, like, a week or so ago, WIC has rules on which formula -- formulations can be purchased. So, you cannot just buy any formula. You
have to buy the formula that is approved under the WIC plan. But that meant that that group of mothers, that group of families with even more
constraints than others in terms of their ability to substitute and the shortages were then felt much more strongly in that group.
So, within the last week or so, they relaxed those rules so WIC now covers any kind of formula which is a step forward. But it's also why, again, this
was sort of the problem here that -- the issues were falling more lower- income population.
MARTIN: Can you talk a little bit of that, though? You said 40 percent of the formula is purchased by families using WIC, why is that? Do we know why
OSTER: I mean, WIC covers a large share of families and, you know, the formula is a big part of what WIC covers. And if you look at the
demographics of breastfeeding, that's also a demographic less likely to be exclusively breastfeeding. And so, sort of putting all those things
together, it's not too surprising that a number of these are large.
MARTIN: So, the President, as we are speaking now, President Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act as a way to address this shortage.
Is that -- what does that do?
OSTER: So, that's going to open up some possibilities for how they can source materials and how quickly production can be implemented. I am not
sure that we have a large number of specifics about exactly in what way that is going to speed this up and exactly how much, and exactly what's
going to happen. They have some additional plans. And it's something called Operation Fly Formula which is going to use commercial flights to take
formula that -- would be FDA approved from Europe and fly to the U.S.
Again, I don't think we have a huge number of details about how that would work. All of these things are likely to make some difference and hopefully
lower the amount of time that will continue to feel a shortage for.
MARTIN: So, we've called you to talk about, sort of, the economics of this, if you will, but you can't escape the politics of the moment. I mean,
Republicans are seizing on this as an example of another quality-of-life issue where they say the Biden Administration has been asleep at the
switch. You know, is that a fair criticism?
OSTER: You know, I'm not sure that the problems that -- I'm not sure, the answer to that question. I think that when we come back to look at what
happens here, there's going to be a lot of blame to be spread around in various ways. And I don't think that the last few months have -- probably
not been managed in the way that they could have been. On the other hand, some of the issues that have resulted in this were true -- have been true,
for a long time. So, I think to put this at the feet of the Biden Administration is almost certainly overstating their role. But I think it's
something we'll find out later.
MARTIN: But the FDA -- look, there are data analysis companies that sort of look at things like inventory. And they were reporting, say, Datasembly
for example, is a company that has come to the four because a lot of their information about inventory, retail inventory is something that we're all
looking at now. And they say that some of these supply shortage disruptions around in this category started appearing last July. And if that's the
case, and, of course, then there was this the plant shut down, which I think it was in February.
MARTIN: If that's the case, why couldn't this have been anticipated?
OSTER: There's absolutely no question it couldn't have been anticipated. We have a quite good tracking on things like this. So, things like the IRI
data will tell you, you know, what share in stock in this category. So, there's no question we had that data and we're undoubtedly not using it the
way that we could've. As you said, there are shortages that started as early as last summer, and they, kind of, gotten worse and the shutdown of
the plant could have been anticipated that hat would make things worse.
I think some of -- the general issue is that this relates to what I think is an, sort of, under support as a society for the issues that face -- new
mothers that face new parents that were not thinking enough about the support that that group needs. That's been true for decades. We don't have
paternity leave -- maternity leave. We don't have, you know, good parental leave options. So, there's a lot of things that go on in this phase of
which these feels like an example.
MARTIN: So, talk a little bit, if you would, about what you think this says about the broader economy if we can sort of talk about it that way.
Does this infant formula crisis -- because that's what it is, if you're the mother -- a parent of an infant or caregiver of an infant and you can't get
food to your baby, does it -- saying something broader that we should talk about?
OSTER: So, I think I see this from the standpoint of, you know, what are the supports for providing for new parents. And we can look to our peer
countries. So, for example, to Western Europe where we can ask, how is what we're doing different from those places? And it's different in quite a lot
of ways. So, in some way, they get talked about it a lot. Like, are we providing parental leave? Are we providing, sort of, child tax credit type
And then it is also different in some of the other more intimate ways that parents are not provided support. So, for example, in Europe, there are
widespread home visiting programs. We send people home or they send people home, and then somebody comes to your house and they -- that's an
opportunity to see, you know, how is it going with feeding? Do you need this kind of support? Are there other things that you -- other kinds of
help that you need? We don't do anything like that in the U.S. And I think if we did more of those general supports, then we might be in a position to
have more attention paid to questions. Like, OK. Well, I'm struggling to get formula.
You know, in this moment, one of the things that happened is that there's a formula shortage and no communication was put out about what people should
do. There was no effort to tell people, OK. If you're struggling to find formula, you know, first step, get a different formulation of -- or a
different brand. All the ingredients are very similar.
Second step, you know, call your pediatrician. Third step, do this. None of that was provided. People were just told, you know, well, we're were
working on it. We're going to work on fixing it. But for the parent, who, in the moment, can't find food for their kid, they don't know what to do.
And so, I think we are not helping parents. And we are not helping parents on so many different levels. This is one of them. But it's is exposed some
broader issues in this phase.
MARTIN: So, you wrote about, you know, what parents should do. So, for people who are, you know, in this situation right now, like, what are some
of the things that people could be doing right now?
OSTER: So, I think -- you know, there are two different groups. I think -- so, for families that are relying on, sort of, specialized formulas, the
first step is your pediatrician. And hopefully, at this point, the health unit services has tried to figure out how to get that formula to the people
that need it. For people who are using -- who do not have special needs who are using, you know, just general kinds of formula, I think the main thing
to say is that because of all these FDA regulations, which we talked about earlier, there's sort of central ingredients in formulas are very, very
similar. So, you undoubtedly have a preferred brand, a preferred formulation. But if you're using Similac and what -- get Enfamil or Gerber,
they're really, really similar.
And so, the main thing is to substitute to one of those as your, kind of, first step. If you can't find anything like that, that's again when you
call your pediatrician. I think a lot of pediatrician offices are now stocking some formula for these kinds of situations. What people shouldn't
do is either stockpile themselves, because that is contributing to other people not being able to get formula or try to make your own. So, homemade
formula is not a good option. Cow milk is not a substitute for formulas. There's a lot of vitamins and ingredients in formula that are not part of
regular cow's milk or regular goats' milk or the other things that people read on the Internet that you can substitute with.
OSTER: You -- have you heard reports of people trying to do this, trying to make their own formula? Are these recipes are circulating? And would you
just tell us why you know, like, that's such a bad idea? I just want to clarify, like, why your -- you were very -- you look -- you've expressed
this very strongly and your writings about this.
OSTER: Yes, so cow's milk is the basis for many formulas but there are a large number of additional ingredients which cow's milk does not provide
the full nutrient set that infants need. There are a large number of vitamins, the ingredients for formulas include whey protein and just a ton
of vitamin ad ins and other sources of fat and protein. The nutrient -- macronutrient mix is completely different than, sort of, standard cow's
milk even though that's the basis.
The other issue in making your own formula is that you don't actually know enough about where these ingredients come from. And so, a homemade formula
where you're getting some whey protein in some cad level oil and some vegetable oil, there's much more likely a chance that that's going to end
up making your baby sick and being contaminated in some way. And so, that's -- that is not a good option.
MARTIN: So, before I let you go, Professor Oster, what are some of the things that we should be thinking about in the wake of this? I mean, some
of these are just obviously big picture issues around the way our culture and our, sort of, political system supports young families, you just sort
of shared those things. It occurs to me that part of the reason there's so little activism around this is at this stage of your life, you're
exhausted. And you don't have time to be going to meetings and you're not writing letters and you're -- you know, some people are. But you know, I'm
sorry, it's just an exhausting period of life. But let's assume that you have some capacity once this crisis has abated somewhat which, you know, we
hope that it will. What are some of the things that you think people should be thinking about in the wake of this?
OSTER: So, I think that this is an opportunity to revisit the way that this industry is structured. And I think that's what we will see. So, I
think some of the steps that the White House is taking now are about fixing the immediate problem. But then I think there will be a kind of broader
step act -- to ask, OK. You know, is there a way that this industry should be structured that would have less of this kind of centralization either in
plants or in firms that would allow us to be more flexible to sort of not have this not happen again? And that's going to be a praising --
postmortem, I would guess.
MARTIN: Emily Oster, thank you so much for talking with us today.
OSTER: Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Thanks to Michelle.
And finally, as Afghan culture and music fall silent here at home, let's listen once more to the students of the Afghanistan National Institute of
Music, keeping their tradition alive from their safe harbor in Portugal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
And we'll have the last of our special coverage from Afghanistan tomorrow. So, join us then. That's it for now. That's for watching and goodbye from